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LSU linebacker Arden Key (49) celebrates after sacking Mississippi quarterback Shea Patterson in the second half of LSU's 40-24 win over Mississippi, Saturday, October 21, 2017, at Ole Miss' Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

Arden Key has likely played his final college game, and the Tigers will be down three defensive starters for the Citrus Bowl.

LSU’s All-American edge rusher will miss the Jan. 1 game against Notre Dame in Orlando, Florida, coach Ed Orgeron announced Wednesday, saddling his defense with another absentee against the No. 14 Irish (9-3).

Outside linebacker Corey Thompson and inside linebacker Donnie Alexander, both whom battled injuries this season, will also miss the bowl game, Orgeron said, confirming a report from The Advocate on Tuesday. Kickoff specialist Cameron Gamble is ineligible for the bowl, too.

The news about Key isn’t so surprising. The Georgia native missed the final two regular-season games with a knee injury and then underwent surgery on his finger immediately after the regular season. Many expect Key to give up his senior season and enter the draft. He is a projected first-round pick.

Key has not told Orgeron of that decision, the coach said. Orgeron said health is the reason for Key missing the Citrus Bowl between No. 16 LSU (9-3) and the Irish.

“Arden’s been battling some injuries. He’s not going to be able to practice, won’t be able to play,” Orgeron said. “That decision kind of came down today. I’ve talked to him. I know he’s tried.”

The news caps a disappointing and peculiar year for a player who set LSU’s single-season record for sacks last year. Key sat out spring practice for personal reasons, underwent shoulder surgery in late May and then missed the first two games while recovering. He finally rounded into shape by October and played with a broken finger the rest of the way, suffering the injury at some point during the season.

Alexander and Thompson have played through injury-riddled years. Alexander missed three games with shoulder and neck issues, starting in eight and finishing fifth on the team with 51 tackles. Thompson played in every game as LSU’s F-outside linebacker, a rotational position that’s not always on the field.

However, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda moved Thompson into a more significant role in pass-rushing packages, aligning him opposite Key or K’Lavon Chaisson. Thompson finished with six sacks, 3½ of those over the first two games.

The replacements for all three players — Key, Alexander and Thompson — are young. Chaisson, a true freshman, and redshirt freshman Ray Thornton are set to replace Key. Freshman Tyler Taylor has started four games in place of Alexander this season, and sophomore Michael Divinity backs up Thompson at the F-OLB spot.

The Irish, ranked as high as No. 3 this season, may present problems for a team missing two or three starters among its front seven. They enter the game with the nation’s seventh-best rushing offense, averaging 279 yards, and an offensive line that was named Tuesday as the nation’s best.

The Notre Dame line won the Joe Moore Award, given to college football’s most outstanding offensive line.

Guice ‘nursing’ injury

Derrius Guice’s absence from practice this week was revealed.

The star running back is “nursing an injury,” Orgeron said, and will miss this week of practice.

“I expect him to practice next week and play in the bowl,” Orgeron said.

Guice was not at practice Monday-Wednesday during the portion open to reporters. Players get three days off for Christmas before returning to practice Tuesday and then leaving for Orlando, Florida, on Thursday.

Irish suspend 2

LSU might face a Notre Dame team without the player who leads the team in touchdown receptions.

Sophomore Kevin Stepherson has been suspended from all team activities, coach Brian Kelly announced Wednesday. Stepherson has caught five touchdowns and 19 total passes for 359 yards. Freshman running back CJ Holmes was also suspended.

Stepherson and Holmes were arrested for shoplifting last week, according to a report from WNDU-TV in South Bend, Indiana. Their availability for the Citrus Bowl against LSU is not known. 

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter, @RossDellenger.

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